PCAST to be Revived, Reports Indicate

The White House has confirmed that the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will be reconstituted. President Trump is expected to sign an executive order in the near future to reapprove the committee. Questions remain, however, about whether the Council will be funded and whether or not it will continue to have dedicated staff support.

The Council has been vacant since President Obama’s departure from the White House. Administrations dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt have received guidance from scientific advisory bodies.

According to a White House official, once a new director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is confirmed, they will be charged with reassembling the Council. There is not currently a director of OSTP and no nomination has been announced.

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EPA to Close Research Labs

Some regional environmental labs will be closed or merged as part of a new plan by the Environmental Protection Agency. Details are scant, but according to union officials and lab workers, at least five regional labs will be relocated or consolidated. One of the locations under consideration for closure or relocation is Houston, Texas; that facility oversees testing of Superfund toxic waste sites.

The leases for several facilities, including in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Nevada, will not be renewed. In those instances, the agency will relocate the programs to other locations and has offered buyouts to some employees.

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Senior Lawmaker Seeks Examination of Politicization of Science

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate potential violations of scientific integrity policies by the Trump Administration. Nelson is the Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

“I am troubled by renewed reports of interference in the funding, conduct, and communication of science at some federal agencies. For examples, at the Environmental Protection Agency, it is reported that a political appointee without a scientific background is now reviewing all research grant solicitations and editing or cancelling them when he sees fit. Across several agencies, references to climate change and peer-review scientific information on the health effects of burning fossil fuels have been removed. Other scientific studies underway have been cancelled, ostensibly to protect the fossil fuel industry from damaging findings. Such censorship is troubling. Debate on science is healthy—in fact, it is part of the scientific process. But, suppression or distortion of science, especially science that impacts public health, cannot be tolerated.”

AIBS expressed its concern with the new EPA policy for grant solicitations referenced by Senator Nelson in a letter to Administrator Pruitt on 21 August. The AIBS letter may be read at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170821epagrant_solicitation.html.

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Government Watchdog Calls for Reforms to NSF Indirect Cost Rates

In a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recommendations are made for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve guidance for setting indirect cost rates on research grants.

Indirect costs are not directly identifiable with a specific research project, but are required for an organization to do the research. Examples of indirect costs include laboratory occupancy costs, libraries, IT, data transmission and storage, administration, and compliance with federal regulations.

Since 2000, 16 to 24 percent of total award funding by NSF was spent on indirect costs. NSF stated that year-to-year variations are due to several factors, including the type of activities supported, type of research, disciplinary field, and type of organization.

GAO found that NSF staff “have not consistently followed [federal] guidance for setting indirect cost rates” and that the agency’s internal guidance does not include “sufficient details” for carrying out supervision of indirect costs.

Three recommendations were made: 1) require NSF staff to follow existing written internal guidance regarding indirect cost rate proposals, 2) add additional details to internal guidance, and 3) add procedures to update the internal guidance based on relevant actions by other federal agencies.

NSF concurred with the recommendations and plans to implement them.

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Enhance Your Scientific Skills: Register for AIBS Professional Development Program on Interdisciplinary and Team Science

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was designed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team, with scientific case studies and examples.

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Science Foundation Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) invites individuals or groups of individuals from the U.S. research community to submit white papers on topics in science, engineering, and/or STEM education that are ripe for international network-to-network collaboration. Responses should identify respective networks in the U.S. and abroad that could be better connected to leverage expertise, data, facilities, and/or other resources to stimulate critical research advances through networks of networks. This information-gathering effort will inform OISE of the potential need for a future program or program emphasis. For more information, please see the Dear Colleague letter at https://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf17131. OISE is also hosting public webinars to discuss the Dear Colleague. For more information, please visit the OISE website.

  • The European Union is launching the next phase of Horizon 2020, a €77 billion, multi-year research initiative. The work program for 2018-2020 will support collaborative research projects around the world. U.S. researchers are welcome to participate and to collaborate with European partners. Learn more about the program and the recent call for proposals during a webcast on 27 October 2017 from 7:30-9:00 am (Eastern).

  • The U.S. State Department is seeking nominations for scientists to serve as lead authors or review editors as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report. Nominations are due on 24 October 2017. Learn more at http://www.globalchange.gov/notices.

  • The National Institutes of Health is seeking public comment regarding researcher access to aggregated genomic summary statistics. The agency intends to update its policy, which currently limits access to this information in order to protect the privacy of study participants. Comments on the proposed updated are due by 20 October 2017. Learn more at https://osp.od.nih.gov/2017/09/20/access-gsr/.

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